Last night I watched Billy Wilder’s film Ace in the Hole (1951) about the relationship between the press and the people. In it, the main character Tatum, a “$250-a-week newsman,” manipulates a rescue effort to save a man trapped in a collapsed cave. Rather than pursue the 16-hour task of saving the man by building support beams, Tatum has the rescue team drill from the top of the mountain to save him instead, giving him six to seven days in which to milk the story. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but it doesn’t end well for the trapped man or Tatum’s tortured soul.
Applying the analogy of Ace in the Hole to yesterday’s article from NPR, you’ll notice that gendercide and forced abortions by the score weren’t quite enough to get everyone up in arms over China’s one-child policy. It took the human interest story of 23-year-old Feng Jianmei posting the image of her forcibly aborted 7 month gestation child to rock the boat. But now that everyone’s talking, they’re talking not about the heart of the matter (gender and abortion), they’re talking about demographics. NPR’s coverage of Feng Jianmei’s forced abortion took all that focused and devoted reader attention and offered up, for well over 60% of the article, the opinions of economists and demographers rather than covering the obvious human rights violations.
…opposition to the country’s one-child policy today goes well beyond human rights. Increasingly, Chinese scholars say birth restrictions are creating a demographic disaster that will leave China with far fewer workers to drive its economy and a disproportionately large number of elderly to care for. “In the field of population studies, everybody thinks the policy should be modified,” says Zheng Zhenzhen, a demographer with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
I’ve been told by reporters before that if I want to get more coverage I should go the demographics route, but I’m vehemently against that for a number of reasons. It doesn’t discuss what’s really wrong with abortion, and it gives the impression that having children is some sort of patriotic duty. It’s like using a drill to rescue a trapped man, and I’m not interested in what makes the “better story.” I didn’t think NPR was either, but my vision was probably blurred by my fondness for them. The good-guy news editor in Ace in the Hole had one motto: “Tell the Truth.“